Tag Archives: SEO best practices

Written by Caroline Cox on Jan 29

Everything you need to know about search engine optimization

Here, you’ll find:

  • What search engine optimization (SEO) is
  • Why SEO is an important part of digital marketing
  • What makes up a good SEO strategy
  • SEO trends worth keeping an eye on

It’s no secret that, in today’s digital marketing landscape, it’s all about the search engine. Whether you rely on organic reach or leverage paid ads, getting on page 1 of the search engine results page (SERP) is always the goal.

But it doesn’t come easy. The algorithm changes often, and new competitors can crop up anytime. Having a site that’s optimized for search engines can be the game-changing factor that helps your brand stand out.

For the full 411 on SEO, let’s dive in.

What is SEO?

The point of SEO is to rank organically for relevant searches to your website without having to pay for ads. As we’ve mentioned before, following SEO best practices helps ensure your site is set up for success. These strategies also add value to your overall brand while showing prospects and users that your company is one they can trust.

One of the most effective SEO methods is to publish well-written, original content that can inform people or answer their questions. Unfortunately, SEO isn’t quite as simple as that, and just having quality content is only scratching the surface. 

What is “the algorithm” and how does it affect SEO?

Google (along with all other search engines, such as Bing) has an algorithm that takes hundreds to thousands of different aspects into consideration when a user enters keywords or a query into the search bar. 

That’s why, when we say “search engine optimization,” we’re talking about setting up your site to show search engines that your brand is relevant, trustworthy, and legitimate in relation to your industry. 

HawkSEM: Why SEO Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

Paid and organic search results on the SERP for a query about creating a gallery wall

You can learn about the process and guidelines Google adheres to make sure their algorithm “meet high standards of relevance and quality” here. However, search engines keep marketers on their toes by regularly rolling out tweaks and updates without much (or any) advanced notice. 

Since it launched, Google has gone from making only a handful of algorithm updates every now and then to rolling out thousands of changes each year. These updates come with varying levels of impact on the search engine results page, or SERP — according to Search Engine Journal.

Because of this, it’s worth your time to focus on white-hat, long-game SEO techniques rather than trying to game the system through black-hat “quick wins.” The latter may get your site penalized down the line (more on that below). 

Key factors that help determine which results will appear for your query are:

  • Meaning of your query
  • Relevance of web pages
  • Content quality
  • Usability of web pages
  • Context and settings

How to start your SEO off on a clean slate

Whether your site is brand-now or has been around for a decade or more, it’s never too late to put good SEO practices in place. Even if everything looks fine and dandy, websites can have hidden technical errors. These may not appear or be visible to the end user, but Google’s crawlers can detect it in the website’s code. Depending on the issue, this could cause your site to get penalized. 

Put simply: If too many “red flags” exist on a site, Google will value it less than a competitor’s site. Because of this, your site may not rank well despite having original, informative, and high-quality content.

Other issues Google dings your site for include:

  • 404 error pages (aka broken links)
  • Missing or duplicate meta tags
  • Duplicate content
  • Pagination issues (such as too many indexable URLs)
HawkSEM: Why SEO Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

A 404 error page from Mailchimp

To avoid Google undervaluing your site, making sure it’s “clean” is an important first step. Once you have a solid base to build off of, you can focus on content strategy and creation, links, schema markup, and other optimizations.

This stage can be time-consuming. You may want to look into having your developer crawl the site and conduct a wellness check or getting an SEO audit from a marketing agency. (Snag one directly from us here!)

SEO through quality content

Whether your business is e-commerce, financial services, or something in between, having well-written content on your site is beneficial for so many reasons. Not only does it strengthen your SEO, but it can educate your audience, show that you’re a thought leader in your industry, and help attract more visitors to your brand. 

When you’re crafting a quality content marketing strategy, key steps include:

  • Fleshing out your personas
  • Defining your voice and tone
  • Determining the keywords you want to cover through content
  • Deciding the best brainstorming, writing, and editing process
  • Prioritizing promotion
  • Regularly analyzing performance

If you want your content to help boost your SEO, it’s important to pay attention to grammar and spelling. One way to think of it is: If an English teacher were to grade your website like a paper, would they give you an A, or an F? Google’s algorithm will read your content like an English teacher, and will also grade it (to a degree).

Once you’ve determined your relevant keywords and search terms, it’s time to work on creating the content. At the beginning of the writing process, think about how your content can answer questions of who, what, where, when, and why. 

HawkSEM: Why SEO Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

A content calendar example from a SaaS company

Pro tip: When creating content, avoid keyword stuffing. This practice of over-inserting the keyword you’re trying to rank for is frowned upon. Plus, Google can recognize when someone is clearly mentioning a search term repeatedly and downgrade your ranking.  

Once you feel confident about your content output and strategy, it’s wise to plan on regular content audits. This will allow you to identify old posts, high-performing pieces, and other content-related factors that will impact SEO. 

Search engines favor new, robust content. By continuing to optimize pages, you can benefit from the long history attached to a URL while making sure the info on your site is timely, accurate, and up to date.

What are some stats on SEO?

  • More than 51% of smartphone users have discovered a new company or product while conducting a search on their smartphone.
  • 72% of consumers say search is their first choice to find information on local merchants.
  • Today, more people use search engines to find products or services than any other marketing channel.
  • On average, B2B buyers conduct up to 12 searches before engaging with a brand.
  • Google has more than 92% of the search engine market share worldwide. 
  • 61% of marketers say improving SEO and growing their organic presence is their top inbound marketing priority.
  • 50% of search queries are four words or longer.


As Moz explains, meta tags provide information about the webpage in its HTML. This info is dubbed “metadata.” While it’s not visible to your readers, it’s key nonetheless. Meta tags live in a page’s source code, and it’s used to tell search engines what a page is all about.

HawkSEM: Why SEO Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

How meta titles and meta descriptions look when creating content in WordPress with the Yoast SEO plugin

Having pages with proper meta tags (which includes a title and description that accurately represent the page’s content) can impact not only the ranking of your page, but your clickthrough rate (CTR) and bounce rates as well. 

When the preview for a page is accurate and lines up with the page’s content, those in search of what you’re offering already have a good idea of what they’re going to get from that particular page.

Header tags

No matter how high quality the content or well designed the page, if your site features large blocks of plain text, you’re in danger of having eyes glaze over and people bouncing from your page. Much like the metadata, header tags (the most common being H1, H2, and H3) serve as a kind of outline or table of contents for each page. See that “Header tags” line above? It’s an H3 header tag.

These tags also serve to emphasize what a paragraph or section will be about. This makes it easy for readers to scroll to the parts of your page that particularly interest them. Header tags are tied to SEO because search engines can weigh these headings and subheadings more than the paragraph copy in terms of importance. 

If your blog title is H1, your headings are H2, and your subheadings are H3, they’ll be prioritized in that same order when it comes to the search engine. Also worth noting: While header tags extend to H6, most sites stick with H1-H3. 


Linking is an incredibly important aspect to cultivating SEO that ranks you well. Having high-quality, highly relevant backlinks (which are links from another domain to yours) tells search engines that other sites trust yours, so end users probably can as well.

We’ve talked before about more backlinks (also called inbound links) from credible sites help you rank higher on the SERP. Think of backlinks like endorsements. They’re used to let Google know your site is valuable and legitimate.

You can encourage backlinks to your site by: 

  • Publishing unique statistics, survey data, or other exclusive info
  • Writing guest blogs or being quoted on other credible websites
  • Partnering with influencers in your industry
  • Reaching out directly to sites you want backlinks on

When it comes to reaching out, there’s no magic formula. And, like SEO itself, it takes time. Your best bet, when cold-emailing another brand to request a backlink, is to keep the message short, make it personalized, and highlight the benefit for their site, not yours.

For example, if you find a well-known industry site is using outdated stats or content that you happen to have an up-to-date version of, send it to them and see if they’ll replace the older link.

Disavowing links

Not all backlinks are good, however. Spammy or “toxic” backlinks can lower your site’s domain authority and your rating. In turn, this lowers how trustworthy your site appears. If there are a bunch of spammy sites linking to yours, Google will treat your site as a terrible one as well. Consider it a “guilty by association” mindset.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to prevent low-quality sites from tanking your SEO rep. Disavowing these toxic sites (which tells Google not to associate these links with your website) is key to maintaining a higher standing with Google.

While external linking is important, internal linking shouldn’t be overlooked. Linking from your own pages to other pages on your site is beneficial in Google’s eyes. It can also be helpful to the end user as well (which, really, is a big reason why search engines value internal links).

Pro tip: When it comes to disavowing backlinks, Google warns that this advanced feature should be used with caution and only in cases where the link is sure to reflect negatively on your site. “If used incorrectly,” Google explains, “this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results.”

Schema markup, structured data & rich snippets

Schema is a structured data vocabulary created by the major search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex). Structured data is what helps these search engines better understand and define what a post or page is about. 

This special language can be added to an HTML markup as code to enhance the snippets that appear below your content on the SERP. With schema markup, you can add elements like a publish date, event schedule, or product rating. It can improve your SEO and CTR by adding context to your pages, thus helping you rank better.

HawkSEM: Why SEO Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

Google’s structured data markup helper tool

This additional content is referred to as “rich snippets.” If a normal snippet merely includes the URL, title tag, and meta description, any additional info is considered a rich snippet. 

You can add schema markup to your pages by visiting schema.org, selecting the type of markup that you want to use, and adding the code to your page. If you publish on a site like WordPress, you can add this data via plugins in a snap. Once added, you can test that the structured data was set up properly via Google’s structured data testing tool.

Pro tip: While adding structured data to your pages can boost SEO, adding it doesn’t guarantee that will show up on the SERP, even if you’ve followed all of the steps correctly. 

What is local SEO?

HubSpot defines local SEO as a way to help businesses “promote their products and services to local prospects and customers. To gather information for local search, search engines rely on signals such as local content, social profile pages, links, and citations to provide the most relevant local results to the user.”

“Near me” searches, or searches based around a local city or region, are extremely popular these days. In fact, 80% of consumers use search for local information. However, location-based searches are treated slightly differently than a standard search. If you own a local business, have a local blog, et cetera, then you’ll want to keep local SEO in mind.

One way to do this is by making sure your site is optimized for Google My Business (GMB). This search engine feature aims to show that a business is relevant and authentic. As a bonus, GMB-optimized businesses may show up as a pullout sidebar on the SERP, giving your biz that much more exposure.

HawkSEM: Why SEO Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

How HawkSEM’s Google My Business page looks on the SERP

Optimizing for Google My Business entails:

  • Creating a verified GMB page for your company
  • Garnering authentic online reviews from customers
  • Responding to these reviews using location-based info
  • Using Google Posts in your account (which allow you to share news and messages on your GMB page)

Other ways to optimize for local SEO include publishing location-specific content, adding separate location pages to your site (if your brand has locations in multiple cities), and making sure your NAP (name, address, and phone number) info is consistent and accurate across the web.

Accelerated mobile pages

The majority of searches are now done on mobile devices. In fact, Google rolled out mobile-first indexing in the spring of 2018 to take precedence over its traditional desktop index. Because of this, it’s crucial for your SEO to make sure all of your pages are mobile friendly. 

Created by Google and Twitter, accelerated mobile pages (AMP) are a critical part of Google’s mobile approach. AMPs feature a more minimalist, stripped-down HTML version of a webpage for quick loading and easy access on mobile devices. 

It’s up to you whether or not AMPs are worth it for your business. While they may receive a favorable ranking on the SERP, these pages often don’t have as many elements or designs as regular pages. 

Since AMPs don’t appear to be going away anytime soon, it’s worth it to at least explore your options when it comes to enhancing your AMP content for Google Search and customizing these pages to fit your needs.

Important metrics

We often get asked what types of metrics or KPIs are most important to keep track of when it comes to SEO. In terms of core KPIs, we generally look at:

  • Organic sessions
  • Organic bounce rate
  • Average page views per session
  • Domain authority/rating
  • The number of keywords or search terms ranking in the top 3 results (above the fold, first page)
  • Keywords or search terms ranking on page 1 (in spaces 1-10)
  • Keywords or search terms ranking in spaces 11-50

The metrics you look at and prioritize will depend on factors like your goals and how long you’ve been actively implementing your SEO strategy.

White hat vs. black hat SEO

“White hat” and “black hat” are SEO techniques marketers can leverage when optimizing a site. Basically, white hat SEO techniques are ethical, Google-approved methods that are looked favorably upon by search engines. White-hat techniques include publishing high-quality content that speaks to a human audience, implementing a long-term SEO strategy, and including alt tags with your images.

Black hat, on the other hand, refers to methods that attempt to trick search engines by making a site appear more legitimate than it is. These methods include keyword stuffing, creating blogs for the sole purpose of generating links to other sites, and hiding “invisible text” in the code of your website in an attempt to game the algorithm.

Black hat methods are frowned upon by search engines. While it’s not against the law to use them, they can get your site flagged for violating guidelines or prevented from appearing in search results entirely. Plus, black hat techniques often result in a poor user experience with your website.

Then there’s “grey hat” SEO. These are SEO methods that, while not currently against search engine guidelines, could become viewed as black hat in the future. This includes posting fake reviews, offering incentives for online reviews, and purchasing expired domains for the sole purpose of linking or redirecting to your site.

How visuals enhance SEO

Speaking of alt tags, visuals are another important part of good site SEO. According to TechCrunch, 82% of all consumer IP traffic will be video by 2021. Not only that, but Search Engine Watch reports that video content has a 41% higher click-through rate than plain text.

If you have the bandwidth and budget, experimenting with video content could end up being what sets you apart from your competition on the SERP. Pages with videos are often visited for longer periods of time, and a longer visiting period can only mean good things when it comes to SEO.

In terms of photos, graphics, and other static imagery, Yoast explains that well-chosen images can complement your content and get you a good ranking in image search results.

“Alt tags” are alternative attributes on an image’s img tag. The purpose of this tag is to describe what the image is portraying, which not only helps the search engine understand the image, but it’s used as context for the visually impaired.

Depending on your website platform, it should be easy to add SEO-enhancing alt tags to your images as well as a title and meta description for your videos.

Pro tip: Videos can also be optimized by choosing an eye-catching thumbnail image, investing in paid ads for promotion, and adding captions.

HawkSEM: Why SEO Should Be Part of Your Marketing Strategy

Speed doesn’t just matter to users — it also matters to search engines

Why is site speed important for SEO?

Site speed, especially on mobile, is becoming — well, has already become — another highly important aspect with regards to SEO. That’s partially because a site that takes even a few seconds to load can cause a significant number of visitors to immediately bounce.

But speed doesn’t just matter to users — it also matters to search engines. Google has been upfront for years about how page speed is a ranking factor for them (though, admittedly, not a hugely significant one). You can test out how speedy your pages are with Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. 

The takeaway

Search engine optimization is important when it comes to ranking on the SERP and growing your reach. But, at the end of the day, the goal of a search engine is to connect users with the answers they seek.

As long as you follow the above tips — and have a fast website with high-quality content that’s engaging, unique, current, and helpful — you’ll be well on your way to boasting successful, strong SEO. 

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her nearly 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on Sep 25

It’s like the age-old saying goes: An SEO pro’s work is never done.

OK, so maybe we made that up. But the sentiment holds true — with the ever-changing algorithm and advances in tech, optimizing your website for search engine results is an ongoing process.

The good news? There are SEO best practices you can put in place that will set you up for success for months and even years to come. These 11 best practices will not only help ensure you’ve got top-notch SEO, but they’ll add value to your overall brand, and help illustrate to prospects and users that your company is one they can trust.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Quick wins for optimizing your website
  • The must-have elements of quality content
  • The latest Google developments to leverage
  • The upcoming SEO trends to keep an eye on

1. Authenticity is key

These days, Google’s algorithm is all about authenticity. Some have dubbed this E-A-T: expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. The sites with credible content created by trustworthy authors move up in the rankings, while those without the right credentials get cut. 

By providing proper attribution — say, giving the blog writer a byline at the top of the post and a photo with a short bio at the bottom — you can effectively illustrate why this person is the authority on whatever topic they’re writing about. 

HawkSEM blog: SEO Best Practices

Video is a great way to increase page time and boost engagement. (Image via Unsplash)

2. Embrace video content

In the spirit of this quality-over-quantity trend, video is fast becoming a highly effective content tool. Video is a great way to increase page time and boost engagement — TechCrunch reports that, by 2021, a whopping 82 percent of all consumer IP traffic will be video. 

But once your video content is good to go, don’t forget to optimize it. You can optimize your videos by:

  • Deciding whether to host it on another site or on your own (this will depend on your goals)
  • Choosing an engaging thumbnail image
  • Creating a thoughtful title and meta description
  • Optimizing the page the video is hosted on
  • Investing in paid ads for promotion
  • Including captions within your video

3. Focus on high-quality content

In case you didn’t already know: if you’re churning out page after page of content, promoting it, then moving on, you’re doing it wrong. When it comes to SEO best practices, it’s far more beneficial to refresh your old content as well as create new, quality content that’s comprehensive. 

If your current strategy is to post for the sake of posting, go ahead and throw that plan away. Instead, pivot your plan to include regular refreshes of existing posts to make them more valuable, whether that means updating stats, including new quotes, or adding the latest developments related to the subject.

While keywords are crucial, the quality of content is becoming more important as the algorithm becomes more sophisticated. It’s a good idea to use variations of the keyword as well as associated keywords and language related to the topic of your content. 

Pro tip: Look at what type of content ranks best for your topic, then create something even more valuable.

4. Prioritize mobile-first indexing

The masterminds at Google rolled out mobile-first indexing in the spring of 2018. Before this, Google was crawling and ranking the desktop version of a website.

But with the increasing rate at which people are searching for things on their cellphones, it became clear that using the mobile version would be the best way to help the majority of their users ensure they’re getting the best results.

So, what does this mean for you? Your site has to look sharp on mobile to rank well. That means no wonky formatting, no slow page loads, and no weird margins that make reading or scrolling nearly impossible.

Do a spot check on your pages by pulling them up on your mobile device to see how they’re rendering. If you don’t have a mobile-responsive site, it will continue to pull your desktop version, but this leaves you more prone to a sub-par user experience and search engine results page (SERP) ranking.

5. Make sure your site is up to speed

Speed is a vital part of good SEO practices. Even though research shows that people will bounce from a site within about 10 seconds or so if you don’t catch their attention, many sites still suffer from slow page-load times.

Images and video are two features that can affect page speed since these tend to be larger files. More — and larger — files mean more HTTP requests, which means more load time. 

Make sure the files you’re uploading aren’t bigger than necessary (they don’t need to be magazine-quality high-res photos to look good on your site). And consider enabling compression, so your files are compressed (aka smaller) and take less time to load.

Enabling browser caching can also help, as this means the page isn’t loading completely from scratch each time it’s visited.

HawkSEM blog: SEO Best Practices

Data also shows that images with descriptive captions perform better than those without. (Image via Unsplash)

6. Don’t underestimate good visuals

Visuals don’t just catch the reader’s eye — they help bring your content to life. Our experts recommend using at least two images per blog post, whether that means photographs, well-designed infographics, or something else.

But don’t just slap a couple of free stock images into your copy and call it a day. The images you choose should make sense for the topic you’re covering, and the look should feel in line with your brand, even if you’re using stock imagery.

By now, you probably know what’s coming next: optimizing!

Once you’ve found some high-quality photos and compressed them to the proper size to keep your page speedy and your formatting on point, make sure to include proper alt text that corresponds to the image. This is what will show up if someone has images disabled on their device, or potentially if they hover their mouse over the image. Data also shows that images with descriptive captions perform even better. 

7. Monitor your reviews

Brand sentiment is part of what the algorithm takes into consideration — not only for Google but for other review sites like Facebook as well. Because of this, it’s important to keep a close eye on your reviews across various sites, and even consider setting up alerts so you’re notified daily or as soon as a new one hits.

Negative reviews should be publicly addressed, if possible, as long as the comment seems authentic and not like spam (you should be able to tell the difference). Do what you can to turn this disgruntled customer’s opinion around — it could be as easy as:

  • Offering a refund
  • Getting them on the phone with a customer service rep to sort out an issue
  • Talking to them when they’re less fired up, reminding them there are people behind your brand
  • Apologizing for a miscommunication, misunderstanding or mixup, which could result in the person deleting their negative review entirely

But don’t just respond to the negative reviews — acknowledging and thanking someone for a positive review makes your happy client feel seen and valued. And, as we know, word of mouth is one of the most effective marketing tools around.

HawkSEM blog: SEO Best Practices

HawkSEM client cdljobs.com’s featured snippet on Google’s SERP.

8. Keep featured snippets in mind

It seems like featured snippets (also known as answer boxes) are all the rage in SEO these days. Featured snippets are usually found in the space between paid search ads and ranked results, sometimes accompanied by an image or video. 

Featured snippets are a SERP feature that often shows up when someone asks a question in the search box — the snippet result usually includes what the algorithm deems the most relevant answer.

Similarly, Google’s Knowledge Graph panel boxes will often appear on the SERP when you search for people, places, and things. It can be tough to get a featured snippet or knowledge panel spot, so see what those who land those spots are doing and how you can emulate them in a way that makes sense for your business.

9. Look into structured data

To help search engines understand what a post is about, the major players (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex) banded together to create a structured data language called Schema.

Schema is a type of vocabulary with tags you can add to the HTML markup of your web pages and emails.

One of the biggest benefits to Schema is that it can enhance the snippets that appear below your page title on the SERP. It allows you to add enriching content like a publish date or rating, rather than simply the meta description. 

10. Own and manage your backlinks

Oh, backlinks — so valuable and yet so elusive. While there’s no real shortcut to getting quality backlinks, by putting in the work, it’s still possible to begin seeing SEO-boosting results. The first step is to measure up your site’s current backlinks, then compare the results with those of your competitors. 

Sites that will link to your competitors are likely to link to you as well — if your content is optimized, high-quality, and relevant (it’s also a good idea to link to relevant, high-authority sites). When reaching out about backlink opportunities, it’s key to prioritize personalization, show the value you’re offering, and focus on building a relationship with this business, not just asking for a favor out of the blue.

Take things to the next level by partnering with other high-authority brands upfront during the creation process — they’ll feel more involved and may be more likely to link to the post once it’s live.

HawkSEM blog: SEO Best Practices

Voice search is predicted to encompass half of all online searches by 2020. (Image via Unsplash)

11. Keep an eye on voice search

Forbes predicted that voice search would dominate SEO in 2019 and encompass half of all online searches by 2020. The appeal of being able to search without using a screen is understandable — you can get answers and find information while doing other activities like cooking or driving.

The concept isn’t new, but household technology devices like Google Home have taken the trend to a whole new level.

Optimizing your site for voice search is a whole ‘nother ball game — but it can be done. Along with ensuring it loads quickly, you can optimize for voice search by:

  • Making sure your site is mobile responsive
  • Including longtail, natural-sounding keywords
  • Prioritizing featured snippets
  • Keeping copy concise and digestible
  • Having strong local SEO (like a thorough and accurate Google My Business Page)

While the voice-search space is still developing, early results show that prioritizing this search type can yield better brand awareness, revenue, and more.

The algorithm’s goal is to help people find answers and resources they need. By implementing the above best practices, not only will your site become easier to find, but you’ll be able to better connect with users and customers who can benefit from what you have to offer. 

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her nearly 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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